There is an old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”
Former President Bill Clinton, speaking in Denver on Monday, came perilously close to it. “This is a very exciting time to be alive,” he told the assembled members of the Aurora Economic Development Council at their annual A-List luncheon.
One of the most interesting things to some of the attending businesspeople was that the council had to hold the meeting at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver because there isn’t a large enough facility in all of wide Aurora to host the event.
There were not a lot of applause lines in Clinton’s speech. No one leapt to their feet in enthusiastic endorsement of his aggressive proposals for investment in a new energy economy, or for discontinuing the financing of our wars by borrowing from the Chinese, or his call for greater equity in incomes and education, or health care reform, or more sustainable economies. “Our sustainability problems are quite profound,” he said
But the former president didn’t seem to expect a lot of applause, either. He talked right through the places where he might have stopped to milk it a little, like he was having a conversation with a friend who already agreed with him. It isn’t clear how much of Aurora’s business elite can be called Clintonian Democrats, but the applause before and after his speech was warm and friendly.
From where we sat — which was way, way in the back — Clinton looked good. In addition to talking about the need for reform of the health care system, he also noted that the baby boomers need to take better care of themselves, be healthier, so as to be less of a burden on that system. He seems to have taken his own advice himself. He looked like a former president who has seriously policed his cheeseburger habit.
Clinton did have some good news sprinkled into his speech:
“I think it is highly unlikely that the 21st century will claim as many innocent lives to political violence as the 20th century,” he said.
He reeled off the totals of military and civilian lives lost in the 20th century’s wars — 12 million in World War I, 15 million in World War II, six million in the Holocaust, perhaps 20 million in Russia’s Stalinist purges, unknown numbers in China’s cultural Revolution, Vietnam, Cambodia, Ethiopia and so on — with the ease of a man who is a little too familiar with the data. “We’ll have to go some to kill as many innocent people in the 21st century as died in the 20th,” he said.
Nonetheless, people feel less secure than they have in the past.
“What’s the difference?” he asked. “The difference is we now feel we could one of the victims, because of global interdependence, because divorce is not an option. You can’t separate from nature, then violence becomes a lottery, and the world becomes more like the Middle East.”
At the seat of every representative of the news media — instead of lunch — was a copy of Clinton’s new book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. (Knopf, 240 pages, $24.95) Clinton didn’t boost the book too much, which is an example-filled account of the good works people around the world are doing to make their communities better.
In his speech, Clinton never mentioned the name of the current president, so we won’t either. But he was directly critical of the current direction of energy policy.
“The only way you can create and sustain the lifestyle in this country, and give poor people a chance to work their way into it, is to find a source of good new jobs every five to eight years. the fundamental problem in America today is we do not have that source of good new jobs: A serious commitment to clean energy jobs.”